It's a dark and stormy flood-watch of a morning. My Christmas holidays are finished, and I'm back here in my beloved cabin, plunking away on this keyboard, my family left behind in the sunny maelstrom of kinship. I'm the far one. If family is a place, then I'm really a travel writer on an extended trip. They are my anchor, especially the little one. She makes family worthwhile, her laughter elevates family to godliness.
There's a new camelia bush planted next to my cabin, a memorial to the two fallen heads of the family that owns this land. Micky Graeser died this month, and her ashes have joined Fred's here. She was my patron, who bestowed this amazing rental on me. Her family continues to embrace me. They gathered here for a memorial this weekend, and packed up the family keepsakes and important records. They're traveling today, back to the states of the union they've chosen for home.
While I was away, a kingfisher fished off the end of the dock, diving straight down and catching two fish; a heron fished under the dock, a majesty of length, a miracle of feathers; at the flood tide on the 22nd, Rich Stallcup and other local birders had a yellow rail in a scope for over an hour.
Soon, maybe tomorrow or the next day, I'll fall back into the rhythm of my life here. I'll pick it up again and it will be familiar and comfortable and true. I'll feel right, and I'll know this is my home: here and not there. But today I listen to the storm pounding these lonely walls, and feel the emptiness inside, and the sorrow of isolation.
posted by Lisa on 7:59 AM link |
Merry Christmas...to all within earshot, to all who care to be wished "merry christmas." I've awoken on the other side of this cold that's plagued me all week. A certain nasal quality lingers in my consonantal utterances, but my mind is lively and clear. Hallelujah!
I'm staying in the home of a dear friend. I'd never been here before last night, and she wasn't here to greet me. I walked into a strange home but felt completely at home amongst her things, and comforted by the beauty she has created in this space.
The small upstairs living room holds a shiny black grand piano in one triangular half, and the other half is a cozy sitting area: a sofa facing the fireplace, with 8 pears atop the hearth. All around are french-paned windows, topped with window arches. Throughout the townhouse items of incredible beauty sit in odes of perfection: you can't imagine them being better suited for another spot, nor another item taking their place. I've lived with her before, and stayed with her often, so I know each of these things, each painting, each bowl; the silk-pajamaed cat sitting on the piano, the mirrored folding screen, the hand-shaped ceramic sugar bowl, the dancing lady framed on the kitchen counter.
It's Christmas morning, and I have a few minutes alone. Before the onrush of activities, family, meals and visits. A few minutes to take stock. Thought I'd say hello.
posted by Lisa on 5:44 PM link |
I'm reading a fascinating compendium of facts and such called Schott's Original Miscellany. In the first 30 pages, I've read the exact language of the Post Office's unofficial creed; the five classic column types; a key to Cockney Rhyming Slang; the Scoville Scale for rating degrees of heat in peppers; an illustrated step-by-step of How to Tie a Bow Tie; and the length of shoelace that must be purchased according to how many numbers of holes in a shoe. I can't stop. I bought one as a Christmas gift, but couldn't quite stop myself from buying an extra, for myself.
On page 31 I've run across Isaac Asimov's Laws of Robotics, as he stated them for the first time in a story called Runaround in 1942, and updated in a 1985 book called Robots and Empire: laws designed to protect society:
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the 1st Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the 1st or 2nd Law.
Zeroth (Law to which all other laws are subordinate)
A robot may not injure humanity or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
I love these laws, and would like to see them incorporated into the Presidential Oath of Office: a neat, secular answer to the problem of swearing allegiance to a set of laws without any mention of the welfare of humanity--citizen and non-citizen. After all, 'preserving, protecting, and defending' are conservative, reactive stances, applied to a mode of government. Worth preserving, protecting, and defending, no doubt, but nothing is mentioned there of vision, leadership, or goodness. A mention of Zeroth, that above all other considerations, humanity must not be harmed, would be a neat, secular addition to the promise that each president makes to the world.
posted by Lisa on 8:41 AM link |
I've been talking with a friend about William Stafford, how he awoke and wrote a poem each morning. For a time, his daughter, thinking he might be lonely, being awake alone in the house, began to rise with him, to keep him company. He began waking earlier and earlier until he found a time that was too early for her.
He wrote a poem each morning, even on the last day of his life. I like this one, from two days earlier:
You Reading This, Be Ready
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fille the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
whereever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading of hearing this, keep it for life--
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?
from The Way It Is
posted by Lisa on 7:11 AM link |
It's that time of year. I walked out of the post office with bundles in my arms. Yes, bundles. Both were things I'd ordered for myself, but no matter. I had bundles. You know how cards and letters make you happy. Bundles make you even happier, because they're bigger. They require balancing, stowing, and a pocket knife; they're mythological: containing mystery and gifts from far away places. I see why some forms of modern man have a love affair with catalogs, for even the self-generated package contains promise and hope.
I received excellent coffee from Ekko in Santa Rosa: one pound, and a new book: Indian Astrology by Komilla Sutton. (Excuse me, the sunrise beckons through the clouds. I'll be right back.)
Just saw my first local wild turkey. Standing alone between us and the path to the beach. I held back Dinah-dog and talked to her as I hissed gently for the turkey to move along. I'm afraid it just stood frozen and staring. I had to give the dog a "stay" and begin walking towards the turkey to get it moving. I can see why it was loathe to go, flapping those large wings to lift its ungainly body onto the branch of the nearest oak, It looked like an extraordinary amount of work. Turkey was none too happy.
At first, when I saw the large bird at the end of my driveway I thought it might be one of the animals from last night's dream. I had a mountain lion, a female pantera leo, Ethiopian lion, and a coyote visit me in the dark psyche of the night. They walked in a line, coyote first. It was the coyote who turned towards the room I was in, who pushed at the door which wouldn't latch. I looked for a chair with which to brace the door, but they were all either folding chairs of no consequence, or they had rollers at the bottom of their legs. Finally, I had to hold the door with my own strength, while a room full of people watched.
I'd like to see the turkeys hanging about once in awhile. I hear that when great numbers of them come around that they can be quite pesky and intrusive, but good comic relief, knocking things over and stumbling about with their ungameliness. At Thanksgiving the tough talk turned to Wild Turkey on next year's table. We'll see.
My sign in Vedic astrology is Chitra, my animal sign the female tiger. I dreamt of a tiger, long ago. She warned me away from a path, off a Louisiana horse, back home to my California bed.
posted by Lisa on 7:55 AM link |
This is how Odysseus expresses his feelings when struck by great beauty, in the countenance of a woman:
from the Odyssey
But if you're one of the mortals living here on earth,
three times blest are your father, your queenly mother,
three times over your brothers too. How often their hearts
must warm with joy to see you striding into the dances--
such a bloom of beauty. [...]
I have never laid eyes on anyone like you,
neither man nor woman ...
I look at you and a sense of wonder takes me.
once I saw the like--in Delos, beside Apollo's altar--
the young slip of a palm-tree springing into the light.
There I'd sailed, you see, with a great army in my wake,
out on the long campaign that doomed my life to hardship.
That vision! Just as I stood there gazing, rapt, for hours...
no shaft like that had ever risen up from the earth--
so now I marvel at you, my lady: rapt, enthralled,
too struck with awe to grasp you by the knees
though pain has ground me down.
from On Beauty and Being Just
posted by Lisa on 9:59 AM link |
Yesterday I woke up to the world around me. A project that I've been working on seemingly forever reached a zenith of completion. All that's left are minor edits and to send the bill. Afterwards, I took a spontaneous walk near Point Reyes Station. I just wandered around the trails that meander near Papermill Creek right outside town. My dog loves it there because all the dogs love it there. I pick berries and plums there in the summer, and in the spring it's filled with wild flowers.
But in winter from this place everything that is glorious arrives. The town is just left behind, so friends feel near; the newly green hills of the east shore line the northward view which is flanked in that general direction by the ridges of Inverness. Between them the mouth of the bay lies beyond my reach of sight, just beyond those clouds, that dancing circus. Turn around to the east and Black Mountain, talisman, lays true, bending towards green but always holding the truth of the golden-brown those curvy spines most often carry. The meadow is spongy, green and new. Small ponds lie about the trails, making homes here 'til April. The creek sits, brown and full, barely flowing here, near the bottom of its run, frustrated by a tidal gateway that slows it down. Here, it's almost part of the bay, a long arm that stretches away, into the hills, flowing to here, nothing returning but whispers of a beautiful land, an enchanted western marin, where I walk in gratitude.
posted by Lisa on 8:07 AM link |
Two nights ago, my dad went into the hospital with arm pain. By last night, he had a tiny stint inserted into a blocked artery, and today he's scheduled to go home again. It's disconcerting to think that he had a complete blockage two years after his quadruple bypass, but comforting how easily they diagnosed and repaired it.
Since he is in Orange County and I'm here in the bay area, I conducted my bedside vigil by phone, checking in with him and with the nurses. New privacy laws make it almost impossible for them to give me any information. The nurses were sweet, finding ways to say what they weren't allowed. Finally, I asked the nurse last night to tell me if there were any reason I should fly down there, and she emphatically said "no". I asked if my brother were to come physically to the hospital, would she be able to tell him more than she was telling me on the phone, and she said, "I wouldn't be allowed to, but I would."
People want to be friendly and helpful, I think. But rules and fears invade our wanting. My dad is in no condition to tell me what's going on, he was groggy from drugs, and he suffers from "trust the doctor" syndrome, so he doesn't ask any questions about his condition or the care he's receiving. If his adult children can't talk with the medical staff, who will advocate for him?
As my parents ease into their final decades, these concerns, these phone calls, this distant worry will become familiar territory as my brother and I do our best to care for them, or to stand by as others do. In a week or two, my dad will be playing golf and tennis again, working again, seemingly unstoppable. We all go on again. But with the certain knowledge that each day is more precious for the having. Trying to remember that. Trying to honor life.
posted by Lisa on 7:07 AM link |
I'm reading The River Why by David James Duncan, a gift from my friend Chris. At first I was a bit put off by the writing style. But I've given in and given myself over completely to it. It's brilliantly written, intelligent, and thoughtful, but not in the usual slow serene sense that I tend to favor. It's fantastic, and somehow grounded in reality, and it makes me laugh. (Really this book is everything I want in a husband.)
Here's a passage I particularly like:
A native is a man or creature or plant indigenous to a limited geographical area--a space boundaried and defined by mountains, rivers or coastline (not by latitudes, longitudes or state and county lines), with its own peculiar mixture of weeds, trees, bugs, birds, flowers, streams, hills, rocks and critters (including people), its own nuances of rain, wind and seasonal change. Native intelligence develops through an unspoken or soft-spoken relationship with these interwoven things: it evolves as the native involves himself in his region. A non-native awakes in the morning in a body in a bed in a room in a building on a street in a county in a state in a nation. A native awakes in the center of a little cosmos--or a big one, if his intelligence is vast--and he wears this cosmos like a robe, senses the barely perceptible shiftings, migrations, moods and machinations of its creatures, its growing green things, its earth and sky. Native intelligence is what Huck Finn had rafting the Mississippi, what Thoreau had by his pond, what Kerouac had in Desolation Lookout and lost entirely the instant he caught a whiff of any city. But some have it in cities--like the Artful Dodger, picking his way through a crowd of London pockets; like Mother Teresa in the Calcutta slums. Sissy Hankshaw had it on freeways, Woody Guthrie in crowds of fruit pickers, Gandhi in jails.
My comments are busted again, I see. I'll try and find somebody to fix them today or over the weekend. Sorry. Volunteers?
posted by Lisa on 7:13 AM link |
The sun is breaking through a light mist out over the treetops and towards the bay. I've barely been outside for days now. I wake up, turn on the computer, turn it off at midnight and fall into bed. I wake to foghorns programmed into my high-tech alarm, dream in extreme close-up of children's crayon drawings; cornbread stuffed into a container and hidden in a small cupboard above the stove; of a building on a pier with windows that need to be cleaned; of forgetting an important birthday. For days it's rained, how many days, I couldn't really say. My woodpile is almost gone, I might make it another week and a half before each chunk of oak, each slab of bay is gone. I've forgotten everything I know about birds, about walks, about rest, about days full of time that stretches, days that reach for nothing and find it. I'd forgotten the sky is sometimes blue until this morning. I'd forgotten who I am--I am the person who wakes each morning and writes. Throwing open the heavy shades on this day I look out the windows at the oaks that surround me, that hold my cabin in old, earthen arms, and remember.
posted by Lisa on 8:39 AM link |
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